December 7, 2019

Edinburgh Fringe: Made in ILVA – Italian scandal and experimental theatre

An intense performance by Nicola Pianzola is the basis of Made in ILVA – The Contemporary Hermit from experimental theatre group Instabili Vaganti. Directed by Anna Dora Adorno with original music by Riccardo Nanni it is a direct response to an Italian industrial controversy. Pianzola is on stage alone for the entire performance and it is his movement and words which aim to comment on the effects of the IVLA steelworks scandal.

The southern Italian town of Taranto is where Adorno was born. It is also home to IVLA. This huge steel plant employs thousands of people, but is also implicated in health issues and deaths amongst workers and nearby residents. It produces 30% of Italian steel, too much for the government to allow it to close. But environmental and health concerns are huge. Local cancer rates are 30% higher than the Italian average.

Made in ILVA has been inspired by the testimony of workers at the factory. The performance has developed into a combination of repetitive physical actions, like factory workers at their daily work. Sounds become obsessive rhythms that combine into dance music as the solitary worker tries to break the monotony of his life – but there is no escape.

As the audience files into the darkened main hall at Summerhall Pianzola sits facing the back wall on top of a 150cm high metal four-legged frame. For most of the powerful performance this will be his only prop. Later a welding mask will be introduced, taking on almost iconic status in an atmosphere where workers must work, knowing there is no alternative employment. Work! Brutalisation! Pianzola chants as he pushes himself along the stage, hands squeaking on the floor, boots getting scuffed. His body contorts between the bars of the frame, it becomes the factory, a pedestal, the worker standing mighty, a bird’s nest looking to the future, a shadowy shopping basket.

He talks of his mutilated body, of work starting early. He wades up the stage to the factory, falls back, again and again. Something powerful and unpleasant is being described and the audience is kept engrossed for the full length of the production. Pianzola is a visceral presence on stage. With the floor projections and music he creates a environment where his body and voice convey an abstracted version of a life that both supports and kills. It is especially emersive for those sitting on cushions on the stage. (Psst, would you mind sitting on a cushion? an usher whispered to me as I went in, as though I’d been selected for the KGB. I agreed and spent the performance centimetres from the trapped, alienated factory worker).

But you have to return to words to discover the whole story. It is claimed that IVLA has disabled 8000 people and caused 20,000 deaths from cancer and leukaemia. In 2012 a magistrate ordered the shutdown of the most polluting furnaces. But economics talks and still the ILVA steelworks is active.

Made in ILVA was a positive Italian advertising slogan, but now its meaning has changed. This challenging production focuses attention on an Italian disaster, showing pain and confusion without any attempt at easy answers.

*****

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